By: Mike Rudon Jr.
It is the brainchild of Belize City Mayor Darrel Bradley and has been brought to life through a unique partnership between the private and public sectors with an infusion from our neighbouring city of Chetumal, Quintana Roo.
On December 21st, 2012, the project saw the first concrete step in what promises to be a complex and challenging journey, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Belize City Council and the Belize Business Bureau, represented by Mayor Darrel Bradley and Arturo Lizarraga respectively.
Today, another significant step was taken with the establishment of an Economic Development Commission which will serve as the operational Secretariat of the entire ‘Open for Business’ campaign.
The undertaking is huge, and President of the Belize Business Bureau Arturo Lizarraga is not shying away from that. In an interview with The Reporter today, he summed up the campaign bluntly – “Will there be challenges? Yes. How big? Huge! Can we accomplish all this today? No. But should we get started now? Absolutely!”
In a nutshell, the program is aimed at attracting new local and regional direct investment, attention and interest to Belize City- investments which will renew and revitalize the city. To do this, the visionaries at the helm have charted a path which includes attracting 1,000,000 paying visitors from Mexico to Belize, and with a focus on Belize City, annually. A massive challenge in and of itself, this includes the building of a four-lane highway from Belize City to the Philip Goldson International Airport and a focused campaign to arouse serious interest in Belize City from hubs like Mexico City and Cancún.
And that is only one prong of ‘Open for Business.’ The private and public sector partners plan to blow the market in the city wide open by creating and pushing new and unprecedented legislation including the Franchise Investment Bill, the Duty Free Shopping Bill and the Construction Incentive Bill which will revive flagging investor interest in Belize City.
Those bills, in collaboration with a free trade agreement to make the northern border more open, convenient and accessible, will be the impetus to bring in new businesses and new infrastructure.
According to Lizarraga, there has already been significant interest from franchises operating in Mexico, and with the proper legislation in place, in short order what he calls micro-franchising will be in full effect in Belize City.
The main thrust of the project and the primary reason for its birth, Lizarraga told The Reporter, is for the creation of sustainable jobs for city residents.
“Open for Business will be designed to ‘lower the temperature’ in Belize City, to give people real opportunities and real jobs and real dignity,” he said.
Lizarraga maintains that if this program had been started one year ago, at least half of those who lost their lives in 2012 would be alive today.
To this end and to enable residents of the city to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them through this newly planned massive influx of infrastructure and investment, the ‘Open for Business’ Memorandum of Understanding makes clear reference to retooling the work force with new skills to improve productivity and production. That will be enhanced with a “Hire Education program for the development of hands -on training programs that are focused on job placement and job creation rather than just job training.”
According to Lizarraga, one particular component of the job thrust which has been the Mayor’s focus is the placement of business bazaars around the city where young residents pursuing small business opportunities in the informal sector will have a location.
There’s a whole lot more to the complex project taken on by the Belize City Council and the Belize Business Bureau. And the project will not even get off the ground without the cooperation and active collaboration of our northern neighbour.
To that end an important meeting is slated for January 17, 2012, when the Mayor of Chetumal, Carlos Mario Villanueva will lead a delegation to Belize City to meet with private and public sector stakeholders, discuss areas of cooperation and chart a way forward.
As Lizarraga pointed out, the challenges, not the least of which are violent crime, inadequate infrastructure and government bureaucracy, are monumental. But perhaps the greatest challenge, said Lizarraga, will be “changing the way people think. We have to get people to buy into this idea, to believe that it can work. That right there might very well be the biggest hurdle.”
The Economic Development Commission is chaired by Mayor Darrel Bradley with members Councillors Michael Theus, Roger Espejo and Belize Business Bureau representatives Arturo Lizarraga and Hipolito Bautista.